A while back I went to the 'Battle of big thinking' debates that the APG and Campaign run each year. The way it works is that contestants are given 15 minutes to woo the crowd with their thinking, with the winners of each round being voted on by the crowd their on the day. The day always attracts a great list of speakers, and this time round was no different, with people like Russel Davies, les Binet, Guy Murphy and our good friend Jonathan Wilshire, all up on stage. With that in mind here's a few notes I took on the day that interested me;
David Hackworthy, Founder of The Red Brick Road - David's idea was called "The joy of sex and death". Being first up is always a tough call, but the idea was an interesting one. In essence he argued that we need to think beyond evolution because it assumes we are the end of the line. Instead we should actively embrace 'sex and death'; the bringing together of two different ideas to create a totally new evolution of the previous. Once you do this, you then accept that the old idea was the past, let it die and move on. In effect he believes our job is to create evolutionary conditions for brands, by bringing together people from different backgrounds, and building an environment where accidents can happen.
Fru Hazlitt, MD of commercial online and interactive at ITV- Not surprisingly Fru gave a talk about the importance of 'Big and live, shared experiences'. She argued well against the notion that we are all individuals in tiny 'tribes', stating that we all want to belong. Years ago we all congregated around the church, now she says the subject has just changed to things like football of entertainment. She stated her belief that while people think technology will separate us, in fact it is bringing us together. As an example she spoke of the fact that there are millions of apps, yet we all end up buiying the same. Similarly she used the Michael Jackson O2 tenancy, along with the Royal wedding as examples of our desire to want big and live, shared experiences, over solitary actions.
Ivan Pollard, Partner at Naked - Ivan is always interesting to listen to, and he didn't disappoint. He spoke of the rise in 'micro markets' and his belief that Minority Report got it wrong, because in the film they assume that people can not talk back to brands when they are targeting them personally in malls. He predicted that the future will revolve around dynamic personal pricing based on location. In effect, that we will be in a supermarket and team up with all the others there. If we all decide to buy bread, we will then negotiate with Tesco to get the price right for us. In this situation the marketers job remains the ability to get heighten preference for brands and thus make them less price elastic. This could be seen as market that is a cross between Twitter and ebay.
Derek Day & Helen Edwards, partners at Passionbrand- Derek and Helen had a bold idea that caught my interest. they argued that most ad planners do not understand a clients business and that the APG should recognise this fact by actually buying a business for themselves. In doing this they argued that planners would better understand the true issues clients face with regards distribution, the importance of incrementalism and service delivery.
Jeremy Ettinghausen, Creative Director at BBH- Having recently joined BBH from Penguin books, Jeremy spoke of the cultural difference between clients and agencies. Within this he highlighted our passion for talking and discussing things, along with agenices constant creation of 'decks'. he also spoke of the fact that advertising rewards 'fast thinking' rather than 'fast doing', advising us that companies need a less crafted approach in the new digital age. With this in mind, the advertising becomes the start of the process of re-crafting, rather than just an end piece of work.
Chris Forrest, Partner at The Nursary - In his 15 minutes Chris put forward his belief that we spend too much time on 'deep dives' in to understanding brands and consumers, and that we should focus on 'looking more deeply in to the surface of things'. His idea focused on the inability of much of the research we do to truly give us insight. This is not a new idea in itself, we all know that if you get a room full of people in to a room and ask them to speak honestly about a brand, you are creating the most unnatural of situations. In essence he was saying that we need to use more superficial and surface research, in combination with a gut feel.
James Mitchell, Planner at BBH - James was an interesting one. Having one an open mic night at the IPA, he was the only relative newcomer to the audience. In his early 20's he was a breath of fresh air in many respects. You'll understand why I say this too, when I tell you that his idea revolved around story telling which is a bit of a passion area of mine. In short he believed that planners need to 'become better story tellers'. He spoke of how the great brand campaigns of our times have had parallels with other great books in history, such as Homer and Nike. He also discussed the fact that brands only embrace fortune and never failure, meaning that we are showing people endless climaxes through ads. The result of this is that people get dull to it because it becomes unoriginal and not true of life. the campaigns that do embrace highs and low, suspense and storytelling, such as the famous Guinness surfers, or the Nescafe love story, become universally loved.
David Golding, Founding Partner at Adam & Eve- David spoke of agencies obsession with big ideas', stating that we should actually start with what clients need. His challenge was the we all spend forever fighting over who owens the idea, forgetting that we are in the commercial messages business, so an idea could be anything from a feeling, a game, the dramatisation of an insight, or simply just a brands USP. Examples he cited included O2, which he said did not have a 'big idea'.
Peter Sells, Head of Mobile at BBH - possibly the most amusing presenter of the day, Peter spoke of the 'Fall of capitalism, destruction of society and its effect on sales of KFC in the Tyne Tees region'. If that doesn't make you smile, clearly your humour is a little different to mine! Points mentioned include the fact that banking has collapsed because we are irrational and disfunctional. His belief is that while planners will spend forever drilling down to Australia to find the meaning of a Mars bar, in actual fact the key is simply to be different and ask yourself 'do I like that one'!
John Wilshire, Chief Innovation Officer at PHD- John's argument on th day centred around his belief that 'making will be the making of you'. Quoting Madmen he stated that "You old men love making golden tombs and then sealing the rest of us in with you". In effect he was talking about the change in communication and consumption whereby the kids of today can all use Photoshop, edit video and code themselves. In the future therefore, marketers need to think of their target and approach to communication in terms of 'makers, players and watchers'.
Russell Davies, Head of Planning at Ogilvy- in truth I found it hard to pull out a single argument that Russell was communicating, but this is probably because my brain was a little dead by this stage. One point I did latch on to was he his statement that 'personally creating something of low quality is more interesting to people than consuming something of high quality from someone else.' In effect, this could have implications in the way we open up our messages to do be built upon and played with by consumers.
Guy Murphy, Worldwide Planning Director at JWT- Guy actually won the battle of big thinking at the end of the day. He wasn't actually my vote, but he did have some interesting things to share. Firstly he highlighted the fact that established modern economies have a far higher distrust and enthusiasm for brands compared to emerging markets like Brazil and India. It seems that in the western world marketers are getting afraid of consumers as a result, which leads to more and more research in to consumers. He believes we need to stop painting such a bleak picture of our profession and start to think of our job in terms of marketing optimism. In this sense we should think of our campaigns as little marketing presents. If the gift is bad it will be rejected, if it is good people will play with it. With this idea in mind he then talked of his new project 'brandtoys.com', whereby each brand is assigned a 'toy' based on the answer people assign to a list of questions about a brand. In doing so you can then instantly compare the look of your brand toy to another. As an example he bought along is impression of what his own personal brand toy may look like versus Russell Davies.
All in all it was a thought provoking day spent listening to a lot of talented speakers sharing the ideas they are most interested and excited about, which can never be bad. While I suspect few contained arguements that were totally new to most there, what was original was the way they chose to present and pitch their arguements. Much of which i will be shamelessly stealing in the future!